At Education Partnership North East (EPNE), we are delighted to have been named a finalist in the Edge Award for Excellence in Real World Learning category, supported by the Edge Foundation. 

When judging the entries, assessors looked for initiatives which developed a curriculum which enables learners to have experiences that are real, meaningful, challenging and life changing, as well as demonstrating innovative best practice and excellent engagement with employers and local communities. 

 In our pursuit of finding innovative ways to ensure students are exposed to real world learning and industry, we developed ‘Cultural & Social Capital’ as an initiative to explore this further.  

Our Cultural and Social Capital Project for Creative Arts, Performance, Computing, Esports and NextGen students at Sunderland College, embraces the ethos of creating opportunities by fostering a whole curriculum area approach.  

This project stemmed from us already doing great things with external employers, via live briefs and opportunities. We knew we had to harness our ideas and create a structure that pushed us to be brave and bold with the highest of aspirations for our learners. 

Sheree Rymer, Creative, Digital and Computing Faculty Director at Sunderland College, said: “We are so pleased that EPNE have been named a finalist, in the Edge Award for Excellence in Real World Learning.    

“For EPNE, being finalists demonstrates that our intent for real world learning, has proven to be a successful and dynamic way of invigorating the curriculum and engaging students.” 

The programme currently has six stages, and each stage is to develop the cultural and social capital of students who live in an area of high deprivation.  

The six stages to Cultural & Social Capital which 100% of our learners participate in are: 

Stage 1: Induction project based on problem solving in the real world/Problem-based learning (PBL)  

Stage 2: Teacher scheduled activities including preparation for industry inclusion, community projects  

Stage 3: Industry inclusion fortnight with Industry Experts on site delivering masterclasses, workshops and launching live briefs to staff and students. Staff gain industry updates and insights alongside students in an immersive learning experience.  

Stage 4: An array of live briefs and commissions                                                                                                                     

Stage 5: EPNE led Employer Forum Creating Opportunities with Regional Employers (CORE) supporting curriculum design. Employers are exposed to what young people are like, how they think and their contemporary struggles and work with curriculum area leaders to help inform the designing of the curriculum.  

Stage 6: A celebration and showcase to industry experts through performance, exhibitions, and a Digital Expo.   

We utilised opportunities within the project to educate employers on the vast array of life experiences that young people have and what they can offer, and employers were able to interact with students across all subjects.  

The programme has emphasis on developing social mobility through these experiences. Students are supported, challenged, and nurtured to remove barriers and limitations to their own progression opportunities.  

For the project to develop further, this academic year we added a 7th stage – ‘World skills pressure testing, and industry set competitions with industry judges’ week running from the 11 December.  

This exposed learners to competitions in a 5-day window preparing them to push themselves and work with others to gain confidence. There is potential scope for an eighth stage to be added in the future.  

This initiative has been very faculty led and we really want to inspire other faculties across the group to adopt this same approach or try something similar, pushing innovation and creativity as far as we can. 

This programme has had a great impact on the college community, leading to rich engagement with employers and local communities. The area has worked with over 35 employers to enhance the student’s experience.  

As part of this, students gain knowledge, skills, and behaviours in line with the College’s core values (Respect, Ambition, Authentic, Innovation). We have made strong, positive connections and relationships that organisations come to the college to ask to work with our students based on our reputation in the city.   

Without this project students would not have developed the confidence to participate in these types of real-world activities.  

If you are wanting to implement something like our project, then just go ahead and do it. Let it evolve into something that is organic within your area that is suitable for your learners and community. Employers have embraced working with us and each year more and more opportunities come our way. 

Why Education Partnership North East (EPNE)?

Highly commended - Employer of the Year, Sunderland Echo Portfolio Awards 2019

Engagement with Employers - Association of Colleges (AoC) Beacon Award 2017

(Sunderland College On-programme Survey 2017)

Selected by DfE for 2021 T Level pilot to deliver the new high-quality technical qualifications.

98% overall employer satisfaction - Employer Survey 2018/19